The fervent and sometimes frustrating quest for details of a Nova Scotia gunman’s deadly rampage has rekindled concerns about the RCMP’s traditional reticence concerning major criminal probes.
More than a decade after the national police force embarked on a modernization drive, media advocates and journalism professors say the RCMP has not yet evolved into the forthcoming and transparent institution Canadians need and deserve.
The police initially said the Nova Scotia suspect had been taken into custody, and only later did a senior unnamed source confirm he had been dead for several hours, and that citizens and an RCMP officer had been killed.
Information on the calibre and types of guns the RCMP seized was kept under wraps for days, and questions about their origins remain unanswered.
The Mounties’ approach to media relations stems from an outlook that has been ingrained over many decades, said journalist and author Stephen Kimber, who teaches at the University of King’s College at Dalhousie University in Halifax.
“There’s a military mindset that the RCMP operate under, which is very much top-down and need-to-know,” he said. “And if they decide you don’t need to know, you don’t need to know.”
Following a particularly difficult period marked by controversy and scandal, a government-commissioned report by Toronto lawyer David Brown concluded in 2007 the RCMP suffered from a “horribly broken” culture and management structure.
A council on reform implementation urged force managers to see communication as a positive opportunity to reach out to those they serve, rather than as a challenge or threat.
“The RCMP must improve its ability to anticipate communication opportunities and requirements and to react quickly and effectively where unforeseen events occur,” the council said. “We understand the difficulties of doing this, but fast action or reaction is one of the fundamental requirements of successful communications, and we think more can still be done.”
Media advocates and educators see little tangible progress.
The Canadian Association of Journalists awarded the RCMP its 2017 Code of Silence Award for Outstanding Achievement in Government Secrecy in the category of law enforcement agencies.
More recently, the association pressed the RCMP over continued access to an exclusion zone in Wet’suwet’en nation territory so media could report fairly on tensions over the Coastal GasLink project in northern British Columbia.
The Mounties are “very inconsistent” in their dealings with the media, said association president Karyn Pugliese.
“I wouldn’t say that they’re always terrible, but we have so many examples of when they have been terrible that this becomes a problem.”
Members of the public don’t have a chance to ask RCMP officers for crucial information, she said. “They rely on us to do that for them.”
Pugliese cited a lack of information about internal disciplinary measures against Mounties who step out of bounds. Nor has the force been very forthcoming about how it is addressing sexism and racism within its ranks, she said.
“We don’t know how they’re solving these problems, and that’s an important matter of public interest.”
The Mounties display ”a very high-handed manner” in their approach to determining what is public information and seem to treat this as “some kind of battle or brinkmanship with the news media,” said Lisa Taylor, a former lawyer and CBC reporter who teaches journalism law and ethics at Ryerson University.
“They appear to have lost sight that the journalists asking questions are mere surrogates for the public and this is a matter of public accountability.”
Linda Duxbury, a professor of management at Carleton University’s business school, excuses any lapses immediately after the Nova Scotia murders as the miscues of a shell-shocked force.
“Sometimes they are not forthcoming, but in this case I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt because the situation was so horrendous,” said Duxbury, who has done consulting work for the RCMP and currently assists other police forces.
Duxbury says it is too early too tell whether the Mounties have made sufficient strides towards transparency.
For its part, the RCMP says decisions on whether or not to release specific information is made by the lead investigators and assessed on a case-by-case basis.
“With certain investigations, especially those that impact so heavily on communities, investigators make every effort to provide regular updates and make themselves available to the media to answers what questions they can at the time,” said Catherine Fortin, a spokeswoman for the force.
“There are many reasons why information could be withheld at various stages of an investigation.”
For instance, the force might decline to discuss details at the request of a victim’s family or shield information that could compromise the investigation if disclosed, she said.
“It could relate to investigative tools and techniques which we don’t generally make public outside of court. Investigations are a process, where information and different pieces of the puzzle come in throughout various phases and are not usually known all at once.”
There may be valid investigative reasons for the RCMP to choose not to disclose a fact, Taylor said.
“But it could just as likely be because the facts are not going to be favourable to the RCMP, or because they think journalists are asking the wrong questions,” she said.
“Rumours and conspiracy theories will absolutely flourish in the absence of reliable information.”
Kimber sees a need for the RCMP to practise openness by default, sharing everything with the public that the force possibly can and withholding information only when truly justifiable.
“But I think at a larger level we really need to have some way of stepping back and saying, ‘Is this the police force that we want today? And what do we need to change it, to make it into that force?”
Jim Bronskill, The Canadian Press
Tyler Babiy fosters connections and community through social media – Saskatoon StarPhoenix
Depending on your outlook, connecting through social media can be as interactive or isolated as each user prefers.
For Tyler Babiy, that choice is easy. Interacting with local creators and other like-minded people is the focus of his business, Social Made Local.
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It originally started out as a T-shirt brand — an offshoot of his other business, T Squared Social. Since then, it has also fostered a community of like-minded, local creatives looking to connect, collaborate and share their creativity.
“With this T-shirt company I could just try to instil a sense of social responsibility in terms of taking ownership of the things you create,” Babiy says.
“It’s really cool to offer (creators) a space to have a voice and be heard — but to also plant that seed of consciousness in people that the things that we do on social media are not private and they can deeply affect the people around us in ways we don’t even know … so it’s just planting that idea that you’re not just throwing things into the wind.”
Facebook places state media labels on Russian, Chinese broadcasters – Reuters Canada
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – Facebook Inc will start labeling Russian, Chinese and other state-controlled media organizations, and later this summer will block any ads from such outlets that target U.S. users, it said on Thursday.
FILE PHOTO: A Facebook logo is displayed on a smartphone in this illustration taken January 6, 2020. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo
The world’s biggest social network will apply the label to Russia’s Sputnik, Iran’s Press TV and China’s Xinhua News, according to a partial list Facebook provided. The company will apply the label to about 200 pages at the outset.
Facebook will not label any U.S.-based news organizations, as it determined that even U.S. government-run outlets have editorial independence, Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook’s head of cybersecurity policy, said in an interview.
Facebook, which has acknowledged its failure to stop Russian use of its platforms to interfere in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, has since stepped up its defenses and imposed greater transparency requirements for pages and ads on its platforms.
The company announced plans last year to create a state media label, but is introducing the tool amid a deep crisis over its hands-off treatment of misleading and racially charged posts by U.S. President Donald Trump.
The new measure comes just months ahead of the November U.S. presidential election.
Under the measure, Facebook will not use the label for media outlets affiliated with individual political figures or parties, which Gleicher said could push “boundaries that are very, very slippery.”
“What we want to do here is start with the most critical case,” he said.
Facebook is not the first company to take such action.
YouTube, owned by Alphabet Inc’s Google, in 2018 started identifying video channels that predominantly carry news items and are funded by governments. But critics charge YouTube has failed to label some state news outlets, allowing them to earn ad revenue from videos with misinformation and propaganda.
In a blog post, Facebook said its label will appear on pages globally, as well as on News Feed posts within the United States.
Facebook also said it will ban U.S.-targeted ads from state-controlled entities “out of an abundance of caution” ahead of the November presidential election. Elsewhere, the ads will receive a label.
Reporting by Katie Paul; Editing by Leslie Adler
Facebook starts labeling ‘state-controlled media’ pages – The Verge
Facebook has begun labeling media outlets that are “wholly or partially under the editorial control of their government,” following an announcement of the policy in 2019. It will start labeling ads from these outlets later this year, as well as banning state-controlled media from advertising inside the US.
The company is labeling these pages because “they combine the influence of a media organization with the strategic backing of a state, and we believe people should know if the news they read is coming from a publication that may be under the influence of a government.”
Facebook labels “state-controlled media” outlets based on a variety of factors, including information about their ownership and funding, the level of transparency around their sources, and the existence of accountability systems like a corrections policy. Outlets can appeal with evidence that they operate independently, including laws that protect editorial freedom and a credible assessment from an outside source. Otherwise, Facebook will add a notice to the outlets’ pages worldwide, and labels will appear on News Feed posts in the US.
You can already see labels on the pages and posts of some outlets that have been blamed for spreading propaganda in the US, including Sputnik and RT. They’re both now defined as state-controlled media, along with other outlets like China Daily. Facebook isn’t the first to do something like this; YouTube experimented with labeling state-funded news channels in 2018, although enforcement has been inconsistent.
Facebook says state-controlled outlets “rarely” advertise in the US. But it’s blocking those ads “out of an abundance of caution to provide an extra layer of protection against various types of foreign influence in the public debate ahead of the November 2020 election in the US.” This supplements Facebook’s existing removal of “inauthentic” pages that spread propaganda or disinformation.
This labeling feature is part of a larger effort to protect the 2020 election’s integrity. However, Facebook has still faced criticism for choosing not to fact-check politicians — including President Donald Trump — on its platform.
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